[ExI] The mosque at Ground Zero.

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Mon Aug 16 18:39:03 UTC 2010

2010/8/15 John Clark <jonkc at bellsouth.net>

> Then forget about good or bad, is relativism objectively true?

> only that objectivity doesn't exist.
> But is what you just said really true, objectively? If we can't talk about
> good or evil or truth or falsehood then that would rather seriously limit
> the scope of philosophy and we'd only have the contemptible "the story of
> Adam and Eve and the talking snake is true for me" or "it's true for me that
> 2+2=5". Jebadiah, do you really think that is the proper way to figure out
> how the world works?

Depends what you mean by "objective".  Most people take things which are
shown by logic to be "objectively" true, and I agree with this.  The problem
is, you always have to start with some axioms, or you can't show anything.
 And because we can't know anything directly--we have to rely on induction
through our senses/experiences--we have no truly "known" axioms, and thus
can't prove anything is true about our universe.

We can prove things about posited universes, though, and we can posit
descriptions of a universe which matches our experiences, then test whether
our theorems still match our experiences.  This is what learning and science
and whatnot are all about.

So, we can prove things objectively, but we can't prove things about our
universe objectively.  In fact, we can't prove that there is an objective
universe at all, containing anything but our own mind (the "everything is in
your head" scenario).  (Technically I'd say that even if my mind is the only
thing is the universe, that's still an objective universe, but there's
really not much difference between "objective" and "subjective" in that case
because there's only one subject.  In fact, I think I'd argue that there's
no such thing as a non-systematic universe at all, because if it ever seems
that something is behaving as if it was not caused by anything, the cause
probably just lies outside whatever we're calling "the universe" at the
moment.  But anyways.)

But it sure seems like there are other people and a systematic universe,
doesn't it?  Even if it is all in our heads, since it seems to be a pretty
good simulation it'd probably be best to go along with it.  Though in that
case there may be exploitable edge cases...

So, again; objectivity exists, we can't prove things about our universe
objectively.  We do have a pretty good model, which we can prove things
about; it's not technically the same, but it's close enough to work.

Repeat your quote:

> But is what you just said really true, objectively? If we can't talk about
> good or evil or truth or falsehood then that would rather seriously limit
> the scope of philosophy and we'd only have the contemptible "the story of
> Adam and Eve and the talking snake is true for me" or "it's true for me that
> 2+2=5". Jebadiah, do you really think that is the proper way to figure out
> how the world works?

What I meant by "only that objectivity doesn't exist" was "only that moral
objectivity doesn't exist"; I wasn't clear enough, sorry.  And that, I
think, is objectively true, given that the world doesn't have a god-like
thing and that it doesn't compute on the level of humans.  I didn't mean to
say you couldn't talk about truth or falsehood, at all.  I did mean that
it's stupid to talk about good and evil in absolute terms, since they are
both always relative to a value system.  While it might be useful to omit
the description of your value system most of the time, for brevity's sake,
you have to keep in mind that it is one of many, and that other people hold
different values, and that while "validity" doesn't really make sense, the
whole "your system's no better than others" thing hold true in the sense
that yours is probably not going to get enforced over others (unless you're
in power) and that you'll just be butting heads if you just keep bringing
that up.

"True for me", I agree, is dumb.  There is probably only one truth (as I
mentioned, I do believe an objective reality exists), but it is not fully
knowable, and the set of true statements contains no absolute moral

> By the way, does subjectivity exist, does existence exist?

I think I wasn't clear that I only meant that absolute morality didn't
exist.  I do believe, again, that objective truth exists, and that
subjectivity as a concept exists (by which I mean I do believe that people
believe different things according to their experiences), and of course that
existence exists (but perhaps it's only an axiom).

> you almost make it sound like super-generalized concepts are a bad idea.

Nope, I love me some generalized concepts.  But the more you generalize
something, the more it gets misapplied.

Value is judged according to some standard; there isn't a universal standard
> of value, obviously, because different entities have different values due to
> their different goals, positions, and domains of interaction.
> If a Muslim says "I think it was a good thing that a religious zealot
> through concentrated sulfuric acid into the face of a young schoolgirl for
> the crime of wanting an education" then I have learned something new, namely
> the persons standards are OBJECTIVELY incompatible with my own standards. We
> would disagree about who is right and who is wrong but we would both agree
> that are views are not in harmonious agreement. You can decide for yourself
> if your views are more similar to the Muslim's or to mine.

I'd say that they are objectively incompatible, sure.  But this would be
true even if the Muslim (or you) thought somehow that they were compatible,
as long as you both didn't.  (I'm taking "compatible" to be the function:
compatible(a, b) = True if for all x in actions (a believes x is moral)
implies (b believes x is moral) AND compatible(b, a), else False.)

I agree with you about the specific action you cite.  I don't know you well
enough to judge otherwise (but it seems we disagree about a lot of things,
especially the proper tone with which to conduct conversation with
strangers, and the best way to convince the religious to stop being
religious), and I certainly can't speak for all Muslims, even all Muslims
holding the view you state, as a whole.

Absolutely true, but there is something far more important, subjective
> morality. I prefer to associate with people who's subjective morality is
> closer to mine than the acid thrower.

Hooray!  But your belief in universal rights (correct me if you don't
believe in them) contradicts your belief in the non-universality of
morality.  Even if you specifically don't believe in universal rights, many
people do despite not believing in universal morality, which is silly though
an understandable state of affairs.  As is the belief in religions at all.

On Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 1:00 PM, darren shawn greer <dgreer_68 at hotmail.com>

> > in conclusion, there is no objective morality
> . . . is a morally objective statement.

Nope, but it is an objective one.  Just not *morally* objective statement.
 It'd be morally objective if I said "belief in objective morality is evil",
which I didn't.

> It's a philosophical sink-hole. Not to mention a political mine-field, as
> objectivists (think Aristotle and slavery) usually end up making moral
> assertions that are repugnant to some, and relativists (think Machiavelli
> and drowning your enemies) usually (if inadvertently) undermine values that
> are important to most.

I agree it's problematic.  But I think I explained pretty thoroughly that at
least my form of relativism only relies on the non-knowability of the
universe to be true, which I think is pretty universally accepted.  And
really, I don't consider any moral statements to be true except as a
statement of belief, perhaps a prediction of others' reaction, etc.  Plus, I
certainly don't consider all moral statements to be "equally valid" and am
perfectly willing to favor my own reactions over others, modulo others'
reactions to my reactions.  (Which is the kicker that keeps people from all
just doing whatever they want.)

> Wittengstein noticed this, and said that to discuss such things you need a
> language and frame of reference entirely beyond what human beings are
> capable of as subjective observers. Perhaps what we are capable of is
> agreeing on that which would be acceptable to the largest number of people
> as mutually beneficial "universal" morality: a kind of philosophical and
> moral utilitarianism.

I agree.  I think there is probably a system which maximally satisfies
peoples' senses of morality (and value in general) despite their
differences, and I believe that that system is probably a variant of

> Or we could step back a few years ( or a couple thousand of 'em) and adopt
> tribal territorial morality, which lets you do YOUR thing as long as it
> doesn't interfere substantially with MY thing. Either way, it would be
> better than what we have now, which is this constant back and forth between
> two dominant two world views and the conflict that always results when you
> try to impose your preference -- relativist or objectivist -- on others.

Or alternatively, just have one guy take over the world with absolute power,
or implement mass-human-programming, or some such thing. Morally repugnant
to most, but these types of solutions could theoretically end such
conflicts.  And if you were able to truly change peoples' minds via
reprogramming or just propaganda, would it really matter?

Of course, such ideal solutions don't seem to exist, and probably won't for
a while.  Though perhaps, given a singularity or something.  Interesting to
think about, and certainly many sci-fi writers have.  Though they all seem
to come to dystopianism... I wish there were more (or really, any) who
didn't assume that such changes were Bad Mojo from the get go (though if
that's the invariable conclusion, of course they shouldn't repress it, but I
don't think it necessarily is).

Jebadiah Moore
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